It’s all now you see. Yesterday won’t be over until tomorrow and tomorrow began ten thousand years ago. For every Southern boy fourteen years old, not once but whenever he wants it, there is the instant when it’s still not yet two o’clock on that July afternoon in 1863…
William Faulkner, p. 190 in my edition of Intruder in the Dust
While we tend to concentrate our own family travel on those places our clients love – Disney, the Carolina Coast, Sandals, the Caribbean – we occasionally make a trip to a spot off of our own beaten track.
A few weeks ago for Easter, we visited friends in Reisterstown, Maryland, a community west of Baltimore.
We had some time to kill on Saturday, and realized that Gettysburg, Pennsylvania was only an hour away. Never having visited Gettysburg, we set off across the Mason-Dixon Line in what we jokingly called the Newsome Family Invasion of the North (we have yet to hear a message of surrender from the current U.S. government).
You see it was my birthday.
Jennifer, who would have likely preferred an afternoon spent checking out Baltimore’s Inner Harbor area, has actually learned a thing or two about the Southern variant of the human male.
That Faulkner quote above says it all. An afternoon visiting a battlefield – especially Gettysburg – is an ideal birthday present for those of us who were once 14 year old Southern boys.
Thanks for the present, darling.
The area around Gettysburg is, like most of south central Pennsylvania and much of Maryland west of Baltimore, decidedly rural. Much more rural than you might imagine before visiting. It is also decidedly beautiful, with a feel all its own.
Since our visit was just quick one, here are a few quick facts about Gettysburg and a few hints on enjoying a short visit:
Gettysburg is a National Park
The Gettysburg battlefield is a U.S. National Park called the Gettysburg National Military Park.
While there is a visitor center with exhibits, the Park itself is nearly all open fields and woods where the fighting took place. There’s a driving tour that allows you to visit all the important spots, and there’s plenty of room to park and walk around at those important spots.
There’s No Charge to Enjoy the Park
If you’re just in Gettysburg for a quick visit, with the exception of picking up a map, a snack, or making a bathroom stop, don’t spend much time at the visitor center.
The center is worth seeing, but the important spots to see to see are on the battlefield, and most of the activities in the visitors’ center come with a charge.
The maps are free though, so pick one up and head out to the battlefield. Make sure the kids (and the adults) take a pit stop while in the Visitors’ Center – the rest rooms around the Park are relatively few. The map is also available online.
Get Out of Your Car
The Park is a great place for long walks, hiking, and picnics.
Leave the car behind and take off on foot. Take a look at the Park map and decide on a few things to enjoy in depth and save a thorough visit for a day when you have more time.
Consider Concentrating on the Third Day
For a quick visit, we think concentrating on the third day of the battle – what is famously known as Pickett’s Charge (or if you’re a North Carolinian, Pettigrew’s Charge) – is the way to go.
How can you do this?
Focus on Seminary Ridge and Cemetery Ridge.
Seminary Ridge is where the charge began, and the area near Cemetery Ridge is where it ended.
The driving tour of the battlefield includes the roads along both ridges forming essentially a large block or loop from Taneytown Road, which becomes Washington Street in downtown Gettysburg, taking a left on West Middle Street, and another left on West Confederate Avenue, and circling through a series of well marked turns and curves to return to Taneytown Road near what is known as the High Water Mark or the farthest reach of the Confederate offensive on that fated third day of battle on July 3rd, 1863.
As good North Carolinians with only a few hours to spend at Gettysburg, we made our way to Confederate Avenue and the North Carolina monument as soon as we could.
I took a solitary walk across the battlefield from the North Carolina Monument along Confederate Avenue to the spot near Cemetery Ridge of the farthest advance of Gen. Pettigrew’s North Carolina troops.
It was a solemn walk on a perfect day.
Jennifer and the kids circled the block, and they were waiting on me near the farthest spot that Pettigrew’s men advanced, near the fabled stone wall.
The spot is marked by a small monument bearing the words: North Carolina.
I was happy to snap a shot of our children around it.
If it’s only for a quick visit, make it to Gettysburg.
Even if you’re not a fan of battlefield trips and heritage travel, you will be pleasantly surprised at the beauty of the Park, and moved by the events of the past.
And don’t forget to: